Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Introduction to Amos

His name means burden or burden-bearer. Not unlike his fellow minor prophets, Amos had a burden to lay before a people--this time, Israel. A sheepherder from Tekoa, a village south of Jerusalem in Judah, God called Amos to minister to the tribes of northern Israel--Jonah's pre-Nineveh assignment.

Again, as in Jonah's time of service, Israel enjoyed a time of prosperity under King Jeroboam II. Although the nation was physically blessed, Jeroboam II was not a God-honoring king. The story, with Jonah's prophecy for Israel, is found in II Kings 14: 23-27. God's people had experienced great suffering prior to Jeroboam's rule. Out of compassion, God restores them through this evil king, who solidified the borders of the nation to significant status.

This was not a time of war, either, with neither Judah nor Assyria having issues with Israel. My study Bible offers that Assyria was quiet due to the repentance of Nineveh.

Spiritually, however, this was a time of vast decline. With God saving Israel through extraordinary means [again!], one would think it was a time of praise and thanksgiving. Sadly, as is all too evident in our worldly world, His grace went unrecognized, which set the stage for Amos' message.

Amos received God's Word through visions, so we can expect the text to have facts mixed with symbolic references. Israel's specific sins are described in detail and God's judgment is clearly spoken. But, there is hope at the end, as chapter 9 closes with words of restoration.

But, next week, judgment is coming. For whom? ....'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Amos 1: 1-5

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jonah 4: 9-11

9Then God said to Jonah, "Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "I have good reason to be angry, even to death."

10Then the LORD said, "You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight.

11"Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?

In what has been a book of short length yet of great depth, it comes as no surprise that God is doing the bulk of the speaking here at the end of Jonah. What is surprising is that the text ends with a question. Even though it should be a rhetorical question, Jonah does not choose to answer it in spoken word or in description, leaving the reader to wonder what happened next.

God asked Jonah in verse 4 of this chapter if he had "a good reason" to be angry with His decision to relent concerning the Ninevites' further punishment. This time, in verse 9, God asks the same question in regard to Jonah's anger over the death of the plant that God placed in his midst to provide shade--in a time when Jonah was brooding over God's will in the first "issue"! I rather like the King James Version translation of this verse, which says, "Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death." (italics, mine; meaning, does your anger, Jonah, please you or set this situation aright? It does please me to be angry, says Jonah, to the point of death.)

Throughout this book, God always seems to be in a teaching mode with Jonah. Apparently, Jonah's heart was so hardened to the idea of what God was doing that his head shut down in understanding the very lesson being presented about him. Even if he couldn't see the illustration through the gourd, could he not have remembered the countless times his own Israel was mercifully covered by God?

Changing His approach, God now takes the podium with two hands and delivers the message straight to Jonah:

"You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight." (verse 10)

I have an interesting note in my study Bible margin. The phrase "came up overnight" actually translates more literally to "was a son of a night." God is showing that He is the only One responsible for the creation of the plant and the lifespan of the plant. The creation is His offspring. All of it! And, as God continues the lecture, He makes it plain that He is compassionate for people--for people in whom He extends mercy and works out salvation. ["Jonah, where's your compassion for people?!"]

In the close, God elaborates on the population of Nineveh. The reference to "more than 120,000 people who do not know the difference between their right and left hand" is a fancy way of saying 'children.' And if there were that many innocent children, how many parents might there be? (And how many who were not parents?) God even references having compassion upon the animals, saving them from what could have been a calamity of Noah-like proportion. Again, this all demonstrates God's love for this people--those who turned to Him, away from their sin--and His special plan for this people, part of His offspring, "chosen" people or not.

"The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance."
--II Peter 3:9

But, as I said up top, where does this leave Jonah? We have not been left with any further word from him--not to Nineveh, Israel or God. But, he did leave behind the book with the God-ordained messages that He wished for us to hold. Did Jonah retain his anger over the situation? Anger at God? Did he repent once again of his short-sightedness in understanding God's will? Did he come to understand that his mission to serve God as a prophet was thrwarted by his own hard heart?

And where do we stand in light of Jonah's ministry?

"We should often ask ourselves, Is it well to say thus, to do thus? Can I justify it? Do I well to be so soon angry, so often angry, so long angry, and to give others ill language in my anger? Do I well to be angry at the mercy of God to repenting sinners? That was Jonah's crime. Do we do well to be angry at that which is for the glory of God, and the advancement of his kingdom? Let the conversion of sinners, which is the joy of heaven, be our joy, and never our grief."

--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Jonah--not soon to be forgotten!

But, next week, we will meet Amos, who shares some basics in common with Jonah. Thanks for staying on the Journey... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Introduction to Amos

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Jonah 4: 5-8

5Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city.

6So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.

7But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered.

8When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah's head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, "Death is better to me than life."

You can just feel the great sense of dissatisfaction that Jonah was feeling, as God's question of "Do you have good reason to be angry?" obviously left Jonah with something bigger to think about than whether Nineveh was at fault. Picking up with verse 5, Jonah moves east of the city, builds a shelter and waits to see what God would bring next.

Perhaps Jonah thought that something still might happen in Nineveh, that God might yet make a move toward punishment of the people. Building a shelter would suggest that Jonah was intentional on seeing something come to fruition. And as Jonah sits, a plant begins to grow up, shading Jonah's head from the heat. "And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant." (vs 6)

The plant in question is possibly a castor-oil plant, according to my study Bible resources, though is mentioned in the King James Version as "a gourd." Jonah's shelter was likely more of a hut or a thicket of branches, which would have had myriad openings letting the sun and elements slip through. A fast-growing vine plant, such as a gourd, would cover that shelter with big, cooling leaves. God wanted to deliver Jonah from his "distress" or "his grief," as it says in the KJV. Again, out of His infinite mercy, God responds to the needs of Jonah despite Jonah's hugely mistaken insights regarding God's plan.

It is very intentional that the passage includes an expression of Jonah's feelings. Jonah wasn't surprised or alarmed or pleased with the plant. He was "extremely happy," as in "blithesome or gleeful." [Strong's] This becomes critical with the dawn of the following day, as no sooner does God appoint the gourd to grow than He appoints a worm to eat it! As the plant dies away, leaves shriveling, God then brings a sirocco, a hot, sandy east wind from the Arabian desert, to move through what's left of Jonah's not-so-shady shelter.

The vine dries up and the fig tree fails;
The pomegranate, the palm also, and the apple tree,
All the trees of the field dry up
Indeed, rejoicing dries up from the sons of men.
--Joel 1:12

Remember the desperate state of Judah as it faced famine and locust? Rejoicing would soon dry up for God's servant in the face of the loss of his shade. Whoa! Think about that. Judah stopped rejoicing because their entire food supply was being wiped out, leading to a state of emergency with a major trickle-down effect. Jonah....out of his gourd. [Ah, perhaps the origin of the expression??] "Death is better...." Really!?

"When afflicting providences take away relations, possessions, and enjoyments, we must not be angry at God. What should especially silence discontent, is, that when our gourd is gone, our God is not gone. Sin and death are very dreadful, yet Jonah, in his heat, makes light of both."

--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

I keep thinking, shouldn't time in the fish have convinced Jonah for sure that God was in control of all circumstances? That God is merciful beyond understanding? That second chances are to be accepted with gratitude and followed through upon out of willful and loving submission? Jonah, prophet of God, called and chosen to serve....

Please do not miss Matthew Henry's sobering conclusion:

Do we wonder at the forbearance of God towards his perverse servant? Let us study our own hearts and ways; let us not forget our own ingratitude and obstinacy; and let us be astonished at God's patience towards us.

--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Jonah concludes.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Jonah 4: 9-11

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Jonah 4:1-4

Jonah's Displeasure Rebuked

1But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.

2He prayed to the LORD and said, "Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.

3"Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life."

4The LORD said, "Do you have good reason to be angry?"

When we read or hear testimony of true repentance, does it not give us pause to consider our own lives and God's goodness upon them? The story of Nineveh in the time of Jonah is one of those remarkable testimonies that deserves personal reflection. Jonah--whose emotional reactiveness is starting to resemble a young Peter, to me--does not share in this enthusiasm, however.

"But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry." (vs 1)

This seems a bit unbelievable to me today. But, honestly, if I look back a few years on my Christian walk, perhaps I can see myself exhibiting Jonah's mindset. Jonah's response comes from the depths of his heart--a heart that understands exactly who God is, yet a heart unwilling to see that God's big picture of love and grace is for everyone.

"...I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity." (vs 2)

Jonah's characterization of God is one that God Himself handed down to the Israelites back in Exodus, and it's one quoted throughout Old Testament Scripture. Jonah knew this of God in his heart, yet he was not willing to believe that God could extend Himself to nonbelievers, such as the Ninevites, and certainly not to the point of their receiving such mercy! In Jonah's mind, this just wasn't fair. Put on your whiny voices and shout, "They're getting away with it!"

Did Jonah have a point? A question was raised after last week's post concerning God's position in looking at the sins of Nineveh. How could God let sin go unpunished? In Jonah's mind, seeing Nineveh, a Gentile nation, poised to receive mercy from God, yes, even salvation from God as part of His bigger plan, was so overbearing to him that he, 1. fled to Tarshish to escape God's presence and 2. became angry with God to the point of asking for his life to be taken.

Let's, again, look at the word Jonah uses in describing God's actions. 'Relent' in the Hebrew is a very complicated word. What makes it even more complicated is that it is very often translated 'repent' as in "...and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not." (Jonah 3:10, KJV, emphasis mine) I did some digging after last week's post and found this nugget in Strong's that helped put some perspective on things:

"To adapt language to our understanding, God is represented as repenting when delayed penalties are at last to be inflicted, or when threatened evils have been averted by genuine reformation. (Gen 6:6 [Noah]; Jonah 3:10).... God's heart is grieved at man's iniquity, and in love He bestows His grace or in justice He terminates His mercy. It indicates the aroused emotions of God which prompt Him to a different course of dealing with the people."

Even in absorbing all of that meaning regarding character, a friend pointed out something else very critical regarding the facts of God:

"A Holy God demands justice - therefore, sin always has a price. Perhaps He relented and gave the Ninevites mercy because for the Ninevites (much like other OT believers), justice was simply "delayed." Justice was still coming. And in that judgment, nothing was held back. The wrath of God for our sins was poured out fully and completely on His Son. Atonement was completely and fully accomplished in Christ - so that we could receive forgiveness - and not only that, His righteousness."

A pastor confirmed my friend's thoughts on delayed judgment. The sins of those who would come to believe in that day would be nailed to the cross with Jesus, just as the sins of those yet unborn at the time of Christ also were. That doesn't mean that God wasn't grieved by the sin, nor does it mean that God's mercy wasn't available to those who had truly repented. [And, lest you think Nineveh emerges as a Christian nation after all this, realize that Nineveh is destroyed some 150 years after its time of repentance, which the prophet Nahum prophesied.] I have found all of this reflection and study very filling!

So, back to the text, God says, "Do you have a good reason to be angry" (vs 4), Jonah--the called prophet of God, saved out of His mercy, given a second chance to do His will yet questioning that very will (again)? Not so much.

Were Jesus at Jonah's side, He might share the parable of the laborers: men who worked all day for a denarius balking at those who received the same wage yet were called in to work at a later time.

"'Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?' So the last shall be first, and the first last."

--Matthew 20: 14-16

Though these Ninevites received God as their Lord later in time than Jonah and under completely different circumstances, did not God--being the Lord--have the ability to grant them mercy and salvation?

Or, perhaps Jesus would re-frame the story of the prodigal son for Jonah:

"And he said to him, 'Jonah [Israel], you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours, Nineveh, was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"
--Luke 15: 31 & 32 (my paraphrase)

I continue to be amazed that the insights of this short book and the ripple effect it brings to my life and ministry. Also amazed at the way the Holy Spirit is working through this blog to bring forward thought-provoking questions and the promptings to return to His Word for wisdom. Thank you, friends!

Jonah and the plant.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Jonah 4: 5-8

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Jonah 3:5-10

5Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.

6When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes.

7He issued a proclamation and it said, "In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water.

8"But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.

9"Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish."

10When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.

Last week, Jonah, finding his prophet's voice, had just uttered in verse 4, that Nineveh would be overthrown. This week, one verse later, "Then, the people of Nineveh believed in God." What a transformation! And not only do they believe on a surface level, but their actions of fasting and adorning sackcloth--from the least member of the city to the king himself--indicate a full forward motion toward repentance.

As I've said here before, the way God has crafted this book for us makes for a fascinating journey. Again, we are not given verse after verse of Scripture as to what Jonah said nor what the Ninevites' exact sins were. But we are witness to God's working in Jonah and in this people, who, obviously, were "great" to God. I really think God wants us to understand the concepts of His Word and the bigger picture. Just loving this aspect of the book!

My study Bible and some alternate translations suggest that Jonah got personal with the people and shared of his experience in the belly of the fish. Surely, crowds of fish god and goddess worshipers would listen with rapt attention in hearing of God's saving of the man before them. As for the king, he heard of God's anger with his people and the consequences He presented to Jonah. Still, for an entire city the size of Nineveh to be converted into believers, God was working not just in Jonah, but in the hearts of each and every citizen. I need a minute to let that sink in, because He is just as capable of working such a miracle today!

There's a marvelous parallel between what happens in Nineveh and what happened on the boat with the sailors.

"...Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish."
--Jonah 1:6, the sailors speaking

The sailors recognized God in the midst of their stormy circumstances. The king of Nineveh sees this as well, and calls for a proclamation to be made for his whole kingdom, including the animals (which was Persian custom in the day). They wear sackcloth as in mourning and fast (which brings to mind the words of the prophet Joel over the Israelites' situation with their famine; see verse 2:14). They know they're in trouble.

"Who can tell, God may turn and revoke His sentence against us [when we have met His terms]...."
--Verse 9, Amplified Bible

For there to be true repentance, there needs to be an understanding that God is holy, and sin cannot co-exist in that relationship. One needs to understand the presence of sin, and the king of Nineveh was convicted of that. He told his people to turn away from their wickedness and violence (the Hebrew word also suggesting "wrong or unjust gain" [Strong's]). God's "terms" would be to repent and sin no more. Yet, it is God who determines who has truly repented in his heart.

Verse 10 confirms that the Ninevites were faithful in meeting God's terms. God saw what they did and knew that they had repented. In turn, He relented. I don't know how often we think about God changing His mind, but that's the idea behind 'relent'. God had a plan to bring "a calamity" upon the Ninevites. They were deserving of a calamity, just as Jonah was deserving of his consequences. Yet, in His mercy, God retreats from His plans. Under no circumstances does this say God "gave in." All along, He wanted His people to come back to Him--but it had to be on His terms, which, from this passage, happened.

Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
--Isaiah 55:7

Unfortunately, though, this is not the end of the story of Jonah. Hold on to your hats, folks, as we find the prophet in Chapter 4 "displeased and angry" (vs. 1)!?!? .... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Jonah 4:1-4

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).